I still can’t participate in National Day of Prayer

This is for the woman who gave me the stink eye when she overheard me say to my husband, “This is ridiculous.”

What’s ridiculous? The suggestion that we as a church group go out about the town – to bars, restaurants, wherever – and pray, in honor of National Day of Prayer.

2_national_day_of_prayer

Though if I’m being completely honest here, part of me wanted to be overheard. This is one instance of a cultural Christian phenomenon that is normal and/or celebrated among many American Christians, and it’s one instance that makes me turn up my nose and think I’m so much more mature than these people. Yes, more mature than these people who have been Christians all their lives, while my faith is transitioning from diapers to pull-ups. I know it’s not a very Christ-like way to think, and I’m calling myself out on it.

Yet part of me wanted to be overheard because I’d wager that just about no one in our young adult small group can comprehend what an event like this is like for people on the outside of the Christian faith. They probably can’t see beyond their good intentions – and I know they had good intentions – how an event like this might be damaging to the witness they are hoping to demonstrate.

In many ways, I’m still an outsider. Events like National Day of Prayer force me to once again come to terms with an uncomfortable fact about myself:

Even after all these years, I am still too Jewish to fit in in church, yet too Christian to feel at home among other Jews.

When I hear “Let’s go around town to pray in honor of National Day of Prayer!” I interpret that as Let’s show off our Christian privilege by making everyone else feel awkward.

When I hear “We need to pray to bring this country back to God,” I hear We need to pray to make America a theocracy so people like you, and your family, don’t feel welcomed here.

Even the title itself – National Day of Prayer – implies specific Christian prayer. It tells me If you’re not praying to Jesus, your prayers don’t count.

I am still conditioned to interpret every Christian idea through Jewish lenses. The suggestion of gathering for public prayer confirmed this, because I’m still too conscious of what it’s like to be an outsider. And I cannot do anything that will reinforce that feeling for anyone outside my ‘circle’ without feeling like a hypocrite.

Because in my tradition, prayer is a private, personal thing – unless it’s part of a group chant in synagogue.

Because in my tradition, we’re used to having to fend off missionaries who learn from their pastors how best to “reach” us, without ever getting to know us and what we believe about the Bible. And events like this often include prayers for national conversion.

Because even today, the phrase “my tradition” and the pronoun “us” in Judaism still make sense. I’m not exactly part of an “us” to many Jewish communities anymore, but let’s face it; I’m not part of the “us” in many Christian communities, either.

My desire to be inclusive makes me “liberal” (a dirty word in many churches). My apprehension to do anything outside of my normal behavior to draw attention to my faith makes me “ashamed” of the gospel.

I could have found more productive ways to explain myself instead of flippantly, indiscreetly expressing my negative opinion. And even if that woman never reads this, I needed to write it for myself, and for anyone else who might have overheard and thought What kind of Christian is anti-prayer?

I need to make it known that I’m absolutely not anti prayer. I am anti peer-pressure-to-do-something-that-feels-like-public-nudity because I come from a long tradition in which prayer is intensely personal when not done in a house of worship. Add on to that the pressures that come with being an introvert living in a faith culture that is catered to extroverted personalities.

When I’m pressured to make my faith more public than what is natural, my instinct will always be to hide. When I’m pressured to perform in a way that is contradictory to my nature, my gut reaction will be I CAN’T EVEN WITH THESE PEOPLE.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I did not participate in the National Day of Prayer – at least, not publicly. And this is my impassioned plea to anyone tempted to use the No True Scotsman fallacy against me because my faith in practice looks different from theirs: please do not conflict faith culture with faith itself. It is not hypocritical to love one and despise the other.

In fact, Jesus had some words to say about public versus private prayer:

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6.

If you can relate to this post, be sure to check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available for pre-order.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to I still can’t participate in National Day of Prayer

  1. Sarabeth, as an introvert myself who prefers personal private prayer sessions, i don’t feel a need to spread the word while running about town. And as a WASP, I must say i am just as uneasy in a church pew, so you won’t find me there too often either. My belief is, although we are different, we are of the same faith, so we have come to learn, and are even expected, to take our place at Church. Dare I ssy, we might even be missed, Don’t let anyone make you feel different. You are there for the same reasons as the others. To worship and learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Crystal says:

    Hi, it’s me again. I know I haven’t been here for quite some time but I agree with you completely, it is ridiculous. Here’s a link for the lurkers who don’t know what the National Day of Prayer is all about:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Day_of_Prayer

    As someone who doesn’t feel at home with either conservatives or liberals because of the way I have been treated by both sides for my views (to the point of silencing, many times – but it is especially offensive when done by by people I cannot escape because I am in constant contact with them in the real world) I completely sympathise with your feelings. You do you, Beth. The idea that people have to pray like this, not only to the Christian God but also to “wash away sins” disgusts me. I hate the National Day of Prayer myself so good on you for refusing to join in the bigotry.

    Like

  3. Doris Fromage says:

    Great commentary, Beth. Agree from top to bottom.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bob Mueller says:

    Nailed it again. I’d tell you to get out of my head, but you’re doing a great job finding a way to put my thoughts into words.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. TLC says:

    You know what? Do exactly what you’re comfortable with. As someone who walked out of fundagelical churches 8 years ago on Mother’s Day and swore to never go back, I can tell you that most of this is for show. Your instincts are correct. Be proud of your Jewish heritage and that filter over your faith. It’s a much-needed perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Christians–especially evangelicals and the folks on that end of the religion’s pool–have forgotten what empathy looks like, and the time is long past when they actually cared what Jesus said to do or not do (if they ever did–the SBC after all began as a response to abolitionists threatening their beloved “peculiar institution”). Ask any of these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (wonder if they are? Just ask them!) about that verse you cited at the end, and they’ll all have ready apologetics answers for why they simply can’t honor the spirit and letter of that rather direct command to pray in private. It’s clear what rewards they want, and it’s clear that they are getting them already. But rewards from Jesus? The reward of heaven? Who cares about those when there is tribal dominance to show off and try to grab more of!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Bingo! From someone who’s an insider and “church kid”(TM): a lot that goes on in Christian Culture(TM) comes off as tribal and ethnocentric(even with the tendency to give steroids to the confirmation bias!) It’s been a while since anyone I know IRL promoted a “show-off spirituality”, although I’ve heard a lot about “taking America back.”
      In his discussion of Acts 1:5-8 in his book Jesus Wants to Save Christians Rob Bell critiques this idea, saying God has a much broader agenda than our ideas.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

    Like

  8. stephbradburn says:

    “When I hear “Let’s go around town to pray in honor of National Day of Prayer!” I interpret that as Let’s show off our Christian privilege by making everyone else feel awkward.”

    Exactly.

    Introverts unite….seperately….in our own homes!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Jamie Carter says:

    And that’s why Christianity needs you. For the insiders who were born into, lived, ate, and breathed this way of Christianity, have certain blindnesses when it comes to things outside of their context. You see something that they cannot because your experiences are different. But also take comfort in this: Christianity began as an ‘outsider’ cult and it attracted outsiders to it – ones who couldn’t fit in with the main-steam imperial cults and local religions of the day. Christianity has lost much of it’s perspective ever since it was turned into an official religion, but it’s through you and everyone who is an outsider or outlier in some way that we see the heart of what Christianity originally was.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Here’s to introverts! I actually brought up some of this with my mom a couple of months ago. I asked if Jesus warned against praying in order to be seen, why does Christian Culture(TM) accuse people who don’t publicly pray of being “ashamed of Christ”(TM).
    Here’s to support for inclusion(though I don’t identify as liberal — another planned post).

    Liked by 1 person

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